A Los Angeles teacher has been charged with smuggling heroin and cellphones to an inmate on San Quentin’s death row. Teri Orina Nichols, 47, was charged with one felony count of bringing a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia into a prison or jail and one misdemeanor count of possession with intent to deliver a wireless communication device or component to a prison inmate, said Barry Borden, Marin County assistant district attorney.
Nichols was charged Friday and an arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 13. Under the charges she could face up to four years in prison, to be served in the county jail, Borden said. Nichols, who the prison identifies as an assistant teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, was arrested Thursday during a visit with 50-year-old Bruce Millsap. Millsap has received eight death sentences and is also serving a 200-year sentence for the murder of eight people. He is a known member of the East Coast Crips gang.
San Quentin’s Investigative Services Unit was in the main visiting room when they observed ziplock-style plastic bags in an area occupied only by Nichols and Millsap. The bags were not consistent with packaging for any items sold in the visiting area vending machines, so Millsap was removed for a strip search, according to the prison. Staff found nothing and asked Nichols if she would consent to a search, which she did.
Nichols later admitted to bringing contraband into the visiting room, the prison said. The smuggled items included 18 cellphones, 18 cellphone chargers, two unidentified blue pills and about three ounces of heroin, the prison alleges.
“We are evaluating how she was successful in circumventing our security measures,” prison Lt. Samuel Robinson told the Marin Independent Journal.
A recent Times report highlighted the issue of illegal smuggling among death row inmates. Six death row inmates died between 2010 and 2015 with detectable levels of methamphetamines, heroin or other drugs in their system, according to Marin County coroner records. Three of them had toxic levels of drugs, including one in whose intestines were found five snipped fingers of a latex glove, each packed with methamphetamine or marijuana. He had overdosed when they burst.
Death row inmates are strip searched regularly, including before and after they leave cells to exercise, go to the law library or see visitors.
The overdoses on death row mirror the larger problem with drugs in California’s prison system as a whole. From 2010 to 2015, 109 inmates died of overdoses, according to state figures.
By Brittany Mejia, Paige St. John - The LA Times/Aug. 29, 2016
Photo: Gary Coronado, la times
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